Charly Lowry raises the hand-drum, strikes a heartbeat and begins reciting a song she wrote after leaving the comfort of her native community for college — “An existence so beautiful, so colorful/ deep rooted in originality/ eye-candy of shallow minds/ that was her reality, still/ she walks around with a smile/ for the whole wide world to see/ Inside’s ascreamin’/ Free yourself from strains of society.”
Among her community, native women are traditionally barred from the hand-drum, dancing instead. Lowry defies that norm, following in the footsteps of her mentor Pura Fé. Lowry is from Robeson County, one of the most diverse counties in the U.S., and the Lumbee-Tuscarora musician is deliberate in her defiance. In an unreleased song addressing advocacy among her community toward Second Amendment Sanctuary status, she directs her attack against the spirits of violence rather than gun ownership. She simultaneously praises the living traditions of her native community in Eastern North Carolina while introducing a variety of outside artistry at her Pembroke venue, Credentials Social Club.
Lowry undergoes dialysis three times a week, four hours at a time. She was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder IgA nephropathy at age 18, and the kidney transplant she received in 2009 is now failing. She is seeking another transplant as soon as possible. Yet illness is not stopping her from pursuing music. She still plays with Dark Water Rising, an award-winning group formed after her breakout success on American Idol in 2004. She performs alone — sometimes just with hand-drum and voice — and other times with a star-studded group of other musicians from the Lumbee and Tuscarora communities.
Host Anita Rao talks with Charly Lowry about using music to champion indigenous rights and fight violence against native women. Lowry will perform at The Pour House Music Hall & Record Shop in Raleigh on Saturday, March 7 at 3 p.m., at LeBauer Park in Greensboro on March 21 at 2:30 p.m. and on Saturday, April 25 at 1:30 p.m. at a Food Truck Rodeo in Lumberton.
On the culture shock she experienced at UNC-Chapel Hill:
When you come from somewhere where it's predominantly native, you don't question some things, or you don't even think to question things. You just walk in indigenous footsteps. But then when you get somewhere like UNC-Chapel Hill that's so diverse — and as soon as I open my mouth, they look at me and they look at my skin tone and can't figure out — I'm not white. I'm not black. What are you was the question that I got. ... I knew it was my responsibility to dig even further into my culture and my people and where we come from, who our ancestors really are, just our place in the world to be able to share that. Even though I grew up only an hour and a half away from Chapel Hill, there were a lot of people there that didn't think that natives still existed, that we'd been killed off. They didn't understand that there was a thriving culture right in their backyard almost.
On her approach to artistry:
I’ve always been a believer that as an artist, we are vessels. I feel like I’m a vessel to channel messages and to share those messages with the world. … I'm very fond of Mother Earth. So anytime I see anything that's destructive to Mother Earth, it really hurts me to my core. And I can’t understand why people destruct in the way that they do. … Sometimes people are hard-headed and they don't want to hear when you want to tell them something, but music is a universal language. So I put my messages in the songs to make people aware of what's going on with Mother Earth and the destruction.
On the song she created with Alexis Raeana:
The title is “Keep My Memory,” and it's basically saying: Okay, we've got so many cases of missing and murdered indigenous women that have happened, that have grown cold. … If you can't get the funding or whatever it is that you need to actively pursue these cases, the least that we can do is keep their memories alive, that we can never forget these girls. They're not just random cases. They are — because we come from tight-knit communities as indigenous people, more than likely these are our sisters, our daughters, grandmothers our cousins. These are girls that we know. They're not just random. So it's our duty to keep their memories alive and say their names.